If you follow a vegan diet, you might be wondering if walking the Camino de Santiago will provide you with the appropriate food options for your diet. At home, we follow a whole foods, plant-based diet, so this was certainly something we were concerned about when we decided to walk the Camino. Based on our research and our experience walking the Camino, we provide a list of tips to help vegan peregrinos.
Can you walk the Camino de Santiago as a vegan? You can walk the Camino de Santiago if you follow a vegan/plant-based diet. You will be able to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in the bigger cities. In the smaller towns, you can remain vegan by planning ahead, relying on grocery stores, cooking your meals, and ordering side dishes.
If you are vegan and are planning to walk the Way of St. James, we hope the list below provides you with some useful suggestions.
1. Consider vegan breakfast options offered at albergues/cafes, but have backup provisions
Some albergues/cafes offer vegan breakfast options. These can include toast and jam, coffee, fresh fruit juice, and pan con tomate (toast with a fresh tomato spread). We had some delicious pan con tomate, and definitely recommend it. Since not all places will offer vegan breakfast options, we suggest taking advantage of those places that do offer vegan breakfasts, and enjoying having breakfast prepared for you by someone else.
But, not all places offer breakfast, let alone vegan breakfast, so we suggest having backup breakfast foods with you. At grocery stores, you can find things like bread, oatmeal, granola, and cereal, which can be good breakfast options. In case you need it, we have a post that includes Spanish words and phrases to use at grocery stores, especially if you have dietary restrictions.
The breakfast we most frequently had was oatmeal. We bought a bag of oats at a grocery store, and prepared ourselves some oatmeal in the morning by pouring water over the oats and letting them soak in the water. Sometimes, a cafe or albergue employee would be nice enough to give us hot water for free. We usually ate our oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter.
Another breakfast we had frequently was bread (or crackers) with peanut butter.
A major benefit of making your own breakfast is that you save a lot of money. Oats are very affordable, and one bag makes several breakfasts. Similarly, buying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter is affordable and makes several meals.
One drawback of making your own breakfast is that eating the same thing day after day can get monotonous. This is why we suggest buying breakfast at a cafe or albergue every once in a while - it will give you a nice break from the usual meal.
2. Consider vegan snack options offered at cafes, but pack your own, just in case
As you walk, you will likely want to stop for a snack at some point. It was very common for cafes to sell granola bars, so a granola bar and coffee or fresh fruit juice could be a good option for a morning or afternoon snack.
You can stock up on snacks by going to a grocery store, where you can find nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, rice cakes, bread, and crackers, among other snacks.
We usually snacked on peanut butter and bread or crackers, granola bars, or fresh fruit.
As with making your own breakfast, packing your own snacks will be more affordable than buying some at a cafe.
3. Look up vegetable/fruit markets
We were pleasantly surprised at how many vegetable/fruit markets we encountered. Picture an indoor farmers’ market, where you find many varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables on display, and this is what we mean when we say vegetable/fruit market.
While you can find vegetables and fruits at the grocery stores as well, there might be towns where getting to a vegetable/fruit market is easier (or closer) than getting to a grocery store, so it’s a good idea to look them up. It is also possible that you might find a greater variety and/or fresher produce at these markets.
In addition, we thought it was an interesting cultural experience, since we don’t have these types of stores where we live.
4. Common vegan lunches/dinners on the Camino are veggie paella, cheeseless pizza, and pasta with tomato sauce
Paellas are a rice dish that usually have seafood and/or other meats. However, you can find vegetable paellas along the Camino. These are just basically a rice dish with vegetables. We had veggie paellas several times and they were a good meal option for us.
Pasta is also common along the Camino, and was many times part of the meal options provided in a pilgrims’ meal. Pasta with tomato sauce might already be on the menu, in which case you can just order that. If they offer a non-vegan pasta dish, you can ask them if they can cook the pasta and replace whatever sauce they had with a simple tomato sauce. You can even try ordering the pasta plain, with just olive oil, salt, and pepper. Remember to ask that no cheese be added to it!
Pizza is another meal that can be found on the Way. We even ate at a pizza place that offered a pizza pilgrims’ menu! You can ask if the pizza can be made without cheese. You would end up with the crust, tomato sauce, and veggie toppings, and this is a delicious alternative meal.
Each cafe will differ regarding whether and to what degree they can accommodate you. For example, a cafe might be offering pre-prepared pizza, which means they can’t offer you a cheeseless option. So, ask kindly, with the hope of being accommodated, but be prepared for your request to be denied at times. In those cases, having snacks with you will be helpful.
5. Consider modifying the pilgrims’ menu, but be aware of what the consequences will be
Vegan pilgrims have suggested asking a cafe or albergue to modify the pilgrims’ menu for you. For example, if a pilgrims’ menu consists of one vegetable dish or salad, one meat dish, and one dessert, vegan pilgrims have suggested asking whether you can get two vegetable dishes or salads, to replace the one meat dish.
You might also be able to ask if there are any grilled vegetables or baked potatoes that you could be able to order to replace the meat dish.
While this seems to have worked well for some pilgrims, it hasn’t been the case for others. For example, pilgrims have reported ending up with two small-sized dishes, or having non-vegan items be removed but not replaced (hence ending up with a smaller, less filling meal). In addition, it’s been reported that you might end up having to pay more.
6. Side dishes can make an excellent meal
When the pilgrims’ menu doesn’t work out, take a look at what side dishes are being offered. You can often put together several vegan side dishes and end up with a filling meal.
For example, one cafe we went to had sauteed mushrooms as a side. Ordering these sauteed mushrooms with a side salad, and eating this with fresh bread and olive oil made for a great meal. The sauteed mushrooms we had were one of our favorite cafe meals on the Camino.
Fries are offered pretty much everywhere, so a meal can be made out of any veggie/salad and fries. Fresh bread and olive oil are also served pretty much everywhere and can be a good, filling option.
7. Be careful with salads and “vegetarian” options!
Some salads and “vegetarian” options have tuna. Make sure you check the ingredients, which are usually listed on the menu, or check with the server. You can let them know you don’t eat meat, dairy, or cheese. Our post on Spanish words/phrases includes food-related words and phrases to indicate that you are vegan.
8. Grocery store dinners can be delicious, healthy, and affordable
When pilgrims’ menus don’t work out for you, consider going to the grocery store. Grocery stores sometimes have hot food bars, where you can order any amount of the offered foods. But, grocery stores can also have canned foods, such as canned beans, and salads.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are available as well, and you can buy some vegetables and bread to make easy sandwiches such as a tomato and lettuce sandwich, or an avocado sandwich.
One of our favorite dinners was bread, hummus, and a packaged salad. We were able to find multiple varieties of hummus, and different types of salads, so that we could vary our meals every once in a while.
In addition to fresh foods, grocery stores have packaged, microwaveable foods, which can be a good alternative on some days. For example, they might have rice dishes or pastas which you simply heat up in the microwave, or noodles or other foods that only require that you add hot water. These are another easy and affordable option.
When planning to rely on grocery stores, make sure you check the hours they are open each day, and whether they are open on Sundays.
9. Look up vegan restaurants along the Camino
Most vegans are likely familiar with Happy Cow. Here, you can indicate a specific town and you will be able to find a list of vegan restaurants in that town.
You can also check out the Vegetarian Way, which lists vegetarian and vegan restaurants along the Camino de Santiago.
You will likely only find vegan restaurants in the bigger towns. For smaller towns without vegan restaurants, the other tips provided in this list will prove to be helpful.
10. Look up ethnic restaurants
Some towns might not have restaurants that are branded as vegan, but they might have restaurants offering ethnic cuisines which often have vegan options. For example, we ate at a Chinese restaurant once, where we were able to get a dish of rice and vegetables.
Similar to vegan restaurants, you will most likely find ethnic cuisine in the bigger towns.
11. Consider taking a cab to towns where you know you can find vegan food
Finding a cab along the Camino is very easy. If you are at a town without a grocery store and without vegan food options, you can take a cab to one of the previous towns where you know you were able to get vegan food.
If you are interested in taking a cab, simply ask someone working at your albergue or at a cafe and they will help you find one.
While taking a cab to a neighboring town is easy and affordable, it might not feel like the best option. If you have snacks and breakfast foods, as suggested above, you might not need to rely on taxis, but we offer this option so that you know the possibility is there if needed.
12. Cook your own food
It is very easy to cook your own vegan meals from scratch. Simply buy some pasta, rice, or quinoa at the grocery store, cook it, and add some sauteed vegetables or salad, and you have a quick, delicious, and healthy meal.
In order to cook your own food, you will need to check whether your albergues have kitchens that you can use. Most albergues do, but some don’t, so you will have to check before you buy all your ingredients. Also, it’s been mentioned that while an albergue might have a kitchen available for you, it might be the case that there might not be pots/pans available to you, so this is something else that needs to be checked.
One option you can consider is staying at apartments. Apartments will have full kitchens, with the equipment you need, and if you share an apartment with several people, can be quite affordable.
We stayed in apartments a few times, and enjoyed being able to cook our own dinners.
As mentioned previously, cooking your food will be the most affordable option to eat vegan food on the Camino. Plus, you have the freedom to make whatever you want, instead of having to conform to a menu with limited options.
The downside is that you will need to check ahead of time if a kitchen will be available to you, and if it has pots/pans you can use.
13. Bring containers and utensils with you on your pilgrimage
If you plan on making any of your meals while walking the Camino, we recommend you bring the containers and utensils you will need. For example, having a small table knife will be useful if you plan on spreading peanut butter or hummus onto some bread. Having a spoon and a small bowl will be useful if you plan to eat oatmeal or cereal. There are many options for lightweight, small containers you can bring, and some are even collapsible, thus taking up less space in your backpack.
Keep in mind that at a minimum, you really only need one small, lightweight container per person, and the necessary utensils. Bringing these objects should not take up much extra space or add a lot of weight to your bag, but will make eating and making your food much easier.
In addition to a small container and utensils, we also brought one cloth napkin per person. We used these as napkins, or to wrap food (such as sandwiches) that we packed for the day.
14. Consider luggage transport services
If you need to bring more equipment (besides just a container and utensils) for your meals, look into luggage transport services along the Camino. For example, if you want to bring a small pot/pan in case an albergue doesn’t have any, or any other kitchen equipment that will be helpful to you, remember you don’t have to carry it all. Luggage transport services can take your bags from one albergue and deliver them to your next albergue.
Another benefit of using a luggage transport service is that it will allow you to stock up on certain food items when you are in bigger towns. In bigger towns, and in towns with grocery stores, you will be able to buy more quantities of your preferred foods (peanut butter, bread, rice/quinoa/pasta, nuts, etc.) and just pack them in your bags and have them transported to your next town, which might not have any grocery stores or vegan options.
Remember that if you are cooking for yourself, you will already be saving a lot of money from cooking instead of eating out all the time, so the cost savings can allow you to splurge on a luggage transport service when needed.
15. Bring some vegan essentials with you
Vegan pilgrims have recommended packing certain vegan essentials. These essentials will depend on each individual’s tastes, but suggestions include nutritional yeast, vegan parmesan, any seasonings of choice, and peanut butter powder, which has been recommended as a good alternative to regular peanut butter because it is much lighter.
Packing some of these essentials means you will be ready to improve any meal. For example, pasta and tomato sauce, as well as cheeseless pizza, can be greatly improved by adding some vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast.
16. Plan your Camino route to accommodate your dietary needs
Another option to consider while being vegan on the Camino de Santiago is to plan your route so that you end up spending the night in places that have vegan restaurants, have access to grocery stores, and/or will allow you to cook your own meals, either by staying at an albergue with a kitchen or by staying at an apartment.
Ideally, you will determine your preference beforehand: will you prefer to cook your meals? Will you prefer to eat out as much as possible and avoid cooking? Once you have determined your preferences, you can plan a route that will allow you to follow through with your intentions.
Try as you might, it might not be possible to end up every single night at a location that allows you to follow through with your preferences. On these nights, you will have to plan ahead and come up with a backup plan.
One thing that helped us was creating a table where we listed all the towns and lodgings we would be staying in. We marked which towns had vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores, and indicated the amenities included in each of our lodgings. Because we knew where we would and would not have grocery stores, we were able to plan ahead and grab extra items when we knew there would not be a grocery store at our next location.
17. Plan for the plane, train, and/or bus ride
Remember that your Camino begins the moment you leave your house, so part of your pilgrimage includes getting to the Camino starting point. Be sure to think about your vegan needs here as well.
If you need to fly to your starting point, check with your airline. Some airlines will accommodate your dietary needs and will provide you with vegan meals. It’s a good idea to bring some snacks with you as well, just in case. For our flight to Spain, we packed a couple of apples, some rice crackers, peanut butter packets, and some pretzel bites.
If you need to take a train or bus, you will likely have to bring food with you. We had to take a six-hour train to Sarria, and packed hummus, bread, and salad to eat for lunch on the train. We did a grocery store run right before heading to the train station and grabbed the food items we needed.
Finally, don’t forget about dessert! We found the most amazing dark chocolate at grocery stores, for less than a Euro a bar. We made sure we always had a bar of dark chocolate with us, and recommend you do the same!
Being vegan on the Camino is possible, but will require some planning ahead. We hope these tips help you as you prepare for your pilgrimage, and empower you to walk with confidence that you will be able to meet your dietary needs while making your way to Santiago de Compostela.